Education |

The NOW! Jakarta Interview with Maya Nelson, JIS Head of School

Education | 16 September 2022

With over 70 years of established history in international education, Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) is nationally and regionally recognized as a leading institution for teaching and learning. After two years of online instruction, the school starts the 2022/23 academic year with an updated Strategic Plan and a new leader at its helm. In this interview, JIS aluma Carissa Finneren speaks to JIS Head of School Maya Nelson about the school’s values, goals, and direction.

 

CF:

Have the priorities changed for schools, post-pandemic? What are the new priorities?

MN:

Our priorities are the same as they have always been.  School is all about teaching and learning and for students to have the very best experience while engaging with teachers, peers, and families, and learning in many different ways.

Because of the pandemic, we learned about how technology can enhance our program and,  perhaps, support the expansion of our program. Over the past two years, children have become very self-sufficient and are able to use a variety of electronic devices. Our priority is to assess what we can do with those skills to harness independence while putting into place things that they missed.

We know that we need times in a school day where our students work, play and connect with one another. I call it the work of children, whether they're young kids on the playground, or whether it's adolescents hanging out on the campus — learning from one another and navigating the social nuances of life is so important.

We are also focused on how we create wellness and support the social, emotional development of every child and teacher on our campus.

CF:

Have the methods of teaching and learning changed? In what way? Will the changes be permanent?

MN:

Good teachers and good schools always look at what's best practice. We're reflective by nature, as good educators are, and we apply what we know works to new situations. 

There's a level of engagement that can't happen online. The constructive approach of being hands-on and engaged in what is happening in and outside of the classroom, and using the environment while learning is essential. We knew this before, but we were reminded of how important this is during the pandemic. 

For example, the impact of learning how to conduct experiments in a science lab is very different from watching how it’s done on a computer screen. We learned and relearned the importance of certain aspects of learning and put those critical pieces that were missing for a couple of years back into place. 

CF:

What has two years of little organized sport and limited extracurricular events done to the school and the students? 

MN: 

The school was an empty place and it was quiet; it wasn’t what a school is supposed to be. It’s a place where students learn how to engage with the world around them and is essential to providing a balanced education for the Whole Child. 

If you observe very young children, the purposes of play are many. There are kids who interact with each other by giving each other roles. They go through role-play and all of these different aspects of engagement at that moment.

When you step back and watch that in young children, it's all about building connections and understanding where you stand in the world. It's understanding social constructs and social language, but all those pieces are gone when you're on Zoom. When children don't have activities, they’re not as engaged and don't learn those social skills. 

At the same time, athletics are important for physiological and emotional reasons. We know it's good for our bodies and our brains to exercise regularly. Motor development is important for all children, and is how they learn how to support one another, and is intertwined with the concept of teamwork. If you take away athletics and extracurricular activities, you take away intangible lessons that foster the development of every single student here. 

CF:

Have student attitudes to university changed? How?

MN:

Probably, but I don't know if that's just solely because of the pandemic. Each year the world does a really good job, unfortunately, of cranking up the competition and the anxiety about university acceptances. That comes from parents, the media, and the hype that surrounds it. I think that the pandemic made everyone pause to say, ‘Where does the SAT or ACT fit, and is testing necessary?’ Some schools abandoned it and some schools didn't. There were students who thought about and perhaps even decided to take gap years. I think those have become more common in the last few years.

Young adults are extremely reflective now about what's important to them. There is an element of maybe there is a different perception of how important attending university is, and what young adults really want to do. Pandemic aside, as a society, the whole process of university admissions is a little bit over the top. 

The pressure is so high for students, and the most critical part of the university search is to find the right fit that meets their individual needs so that they can follow what they want to learn about and can grow into adulthood.

There are thousands of universities around the world that are well suited for students. There are also many tracks where young people don't need the degree — just the talent. One of my son's best friends didn't go to university because he is so technologically gifted that he has job offers without it. He knew that was his passion. I think our job as educators is to help students understand the many different paths they have to choose from, and that what's important is to find the right program for them. 

CF:

Has the selection of optional courses changed? What are the new choices?

MN:

They haven’t changed drastically, and we offer the same classes from division to division. Elementary School is all about developing the foundation of learning and  creating confident readers, writers, mathematicians, and scientists as they move forward in Middle School. 

We really balance the cognitive, academic, and social-emotional for young teenagers as they're going through a time that is neurologically and biologically quite expansive. We have added the JIS Studio in the Middle School, which is a multidisciplinary, project-based learning approach. It’s a really exciting and innovative way for students to learn by creating what is important to them. They follow their passion, come up with different projects, and learn through those projects.

In High School, we offer a wide variety of classes, in addition to the AP [Advanced Placement] and IB [International Baccalaureate] programs. We also have AP Capstone, which is an incredible two-year program that really speaks to writing and research and has many opportunities for students to be able to develop in those areas.

We just started the IB Careers-Related program this year, which merges passion areas with connections and partnerships to universities and colleges. Those are added layers that give our students options as they grow and develop.

CF:

Your new headship as a JIS aluma, does this bring new vision for the school, a new strategic plan, or perhaps just a new ‘feeling’?

MN:

I came back to JIS because I have a great affinity, love, and memories of this school. JIS provides amazing opportunities for students, and I think that we have so many alumni that we are incredibly proud of in their successes — whatever those successes may be. There's a certain kind of magic in the air. I think our campuses allow students to be connected to a legacy of learners and to make lifelong friends. 

I came here very purposely. I love this school because it formed me as an educator. It gave me the opportunity as a young child to say, ‘I want to become a teacher’, and to find my passion. I wanted my son to experience some of what I had experienced as a young girl.

My vision for the school coincides with our mission. We want to create a place where every student is best for the world, and I think that we live by that mission. We want to continue to develop our program so that we can fulfill that for every student that walks through our gates. We want to continue to give back to our adopted country in Indonesia. We want to form partnerships and support this country in all its endeavors educationally and more. 

We are embarking on a new Strategic Plan. Good schools always look at what it is that they have done and what they need to do going forward. We have dreams about what we want to accomplish in the future. For the last two years, different constituent groups — from board members, parents, and students, to teachers and staff — all came together to think about what we wanted to achieve. 

Our new strategic plan is focused on expanding our learning model and enhancing and aligning our curriculum for our school, looking at communications and marketing and resources for our school, and opening an Advancement Office. It’s exciting work. 

CF:

What is community engagement going to look like post strict Covid measures?  

MN:

Well, schools in Jakarta still have to adhere to Covid regulations. There is still masking everywhere now again for schools, as well as only allowing a limited number of guests on campus. We hope that we can go back to having our community engaged in our school in the coming weeks. We want to open our doors. We want families here when our kids are playing soccer, we want to host tournaments again.

This beautiful campus is  home to so many people — and we want it to be alive and filled as much as possible.

CF:

Please tell us the story of the JIS Learning Center, I believe this is something you are personally passionate about. 

MN:

Yes, I am. We're really excited about the new JIS Learning Center at our Pattimura Elementary School campus. It's a program for students who have more moderate-level neuro diversities. It's what we would call a self-contained classroom where we have a teacher and teacher assistant supporting and providing intervention, and teaching a small group of students.

We currently have seven students enrolled and have a waitlist. Our students have different learning profiles and our goal is to ensure that each child learns in our program. I think that what's so exciting about it is that we want people to know we're an inclusive school. 

We believe in diversity. We believe that every child can learn and we want to provide opportunities and models to show how that can be done. This is the start of a program and we will grow this program throughout all levels so that we have one classroom for division. So, students who we enroll in this program can continue to develop on their own path and move throughout the learning journey from Elementary to High School.

CF:

How does the school connect with alumni across all age groups, industries, and countries of residence? Surely a huge but rewarding task.

MN:

The last two years have been quiet because of the pandemic. We certainly want to engage with our alumni all over the world. This year we plan to have different alumni events on campus and abroad. We want our alumni to know that they're important to us and they're all part of our community.

There's a little bit of an idea that ‘Once a Dragon, Always a Dragon’. I can say that certainly from my age group, we still all connect and keep in touch with each other. So, it's interesting that decades later, we're still connected because of this school. I believe that there are many people in the alumni group that have such loyalty for JIS, and we need to really capture those stories because the people are what the school is all about. And certainly, we want to hear from those voices all around that are part of the school.

CF:

When are upcoming open houses scheduled for the remainder of 2022 and next year, 2023? 

MN:

We will have open houses coming up in late September and early October. We host several throughout the year, a few in the fall, and we have them again at the beginning of second semester. We also have a lot of virtual tours and information on our beautiful website that just launched last week. I welcome people to look at that and to reach out to our admissions office with questions. 

CF:

What form will they take? 

MN:

We will meet prospective families in person. We want people to come look at our beautiful campus. At the same time, we offer virtual tours for families who don’t live in Indonesia. Whether in person or online, we look forward to sharing our story and showing people who want to join our community what we’re all about. 

CF:

On behalf of Now! Jakarta many thanks for your valuable time and exceptional insight.  We wish you the very best for all your plans for the future.